Tacos & Tequila- Puerto Rico

So I was lucky enough to spend five days in Puerto Rico. And while I was there, as whenever I am anywhere, I am looking to find new and interesting tequila they don’t have where I live, either in a retail store or perhaps a restaurant/bar. I had already seen warnings that Puerto Rico is mostly a tequila wasteland and neither of the things I look for were to be found. However, I did find a hotel restaurant called “Tacos & Tequila” (which you would not expect much from) where the food was very, very good.

It also happened that it had the best Tequila selection of any place I went to when I was there. That shouldn’t be surprising, since “Tequila” is in the name of the restaurant. However, its frosted double-doors each had the Patron logo on it.

The best looking tequila line up in Puerto Rico’s Condado Beach area.

When I say they the best selection, I mean it was this (pictured, above). That was much better than every other place I went to that had only Patron, Don Julio, 1800, Casamigos and Teramana. Added bonus was every employee wears a shirt that says “Tequila Helps.” I tried to buy one but you have to be an employee and I didn’t have time for a job interview, though I did think about it, it was that good a shirt.

The other thing about Puerto Rico in 2023, was how unbelievably expensive Tequila at a bar was. Just to check myself, I looked at the menu of a place I go to called Burro Bar here. These prices are easily 2x-3x the prices, and I thought Massachusetts was pretty expensive. I have enclosed a screenshot of the menu (Below) so you can see what I saw- that a 2oz pour of Casamigos is $24 (!) and the highest price was the Gran Patron Burdeos at $116 for a 2oz pour. When I think I could get a bottle of Tapatio Reposado and Tapatio Anejo in liter bottles for that cost, I’m just stunned that it even made it to the menu.

Tacos & Tequila Drink Menu

Lastly, I did, on my last day, treat myself to glass of the Tierra Noble XA, which I thought was very good, a bit hot, but otherwise almost worth the insane cost that I can’t write I paid for it (it’s not on the menu picture). For the rest of the time I made do with Patron. What’s a tequila guy to do?

Best Tequila Drinker’s Gift: An Advent Calendar Part I: The Discovery

My brother originally introduced to me to Tequila in 2007, when we found ourselves stuck at a hotel bar, and I said “what are you drinking now?” And he said “Tequila.” As a spirit aficionado, I knew that he must not be talking about the horrific yellow paint thinner I had endured in college. He said, no it’s better now. Right there, 15 years ago, I had my first Patron (on ice). Since then, we have left them (and all of their attempts to separate us from our money with products that are exactly as disappointing as we think they will be)behind, but that drink was a revelation at the time.

We have been on the journey together, starting with what we thought were our discoveries, and brave forays into different kinds of juice; through Clase Azul to Tears of Llorona from and from Kah to 1446. We’ve excitedly unwrapped imports together, attended tastings, and once a month we go out to hunt for what’s new, different. For my birthday, he almost always finds a new barrier to explore—first it was these very, very high end bottles (Rey Sol being the most recent amazement).

Tapatio Gran Reserva Extra Anejo, the star of this "Drinks by the Dram" Tequila Advent Calendar.
A tequila advent calendar to delight your favorite agave enthusiast.

So it makes perfect sense that he would get me the greatest present ever, something I never would have found, or even looked for, a Tequila Advent Calendar! It’s from “Drinks by the Dram” and it promises “24 different, handmade wax-sealed drams from boutique producers to world-renowned brands.” Below, just a few displayed: Fortaleza Still Strength, Tapatio Gran Reserva XA and Don Fulano Reposado. It is a not just a great gift, it is an amazing gift because so often my bar is littered with bottles that I had one or two drinks from and decided I didn’t like it. This is the amazing opposite; it allows us to sample something without having to endure a whole bottle if we don’t like it; or instruct us to get as many bottles as we can if we do like it!

Fortaleza Still Strength, Tapatio Excelencia, Don Fulano Reposado are three tequilas you should definitely have in your collection.

Amazing tequilas, to sample (although these three are keepers!)

Tequila Advent Calendar Part II: The Gifting–Just in time for Christmas.

The Tequila Advent Calendar, described above by Drinks by the Dram ceased to be available (and now is “Tequila & Mezcal Collection), I found another comparable one at The Spirit Co., which is a London-based company but ships internationally. I know this since I got my order from them today.

The Spirit company promises Arette, Tequila Ocho and Arte Nom as part of their excellent Tequila Advent Calendar.
Looks like Advent calendars have to have Mezcal added because there’s not enough Tequila

This collection seems comparable or better than the last, since it contains Arette, Tequila Ocho, Fortaleza and Arte Nom, just to name a few. The collection is $170 and is available at the link below the picture. (I am not part of the company, I am just providing the link, name and post as a service since a lot of folks asked me to where get the calendar last year and I could not help.) I also think that with the great brands inside this box, it is a very good (if not perfect) poster for additive-free tequilas.

If someone you knows insists they love tequila and Clase Azul, this is the gift that keeps on giving.

For a funny “Goofus & Gallant” comparison, there is another Tequila Advent calendar at givethembeer (.com) which hilariously celebrates Jose Cuervo Especial and Casamigos as “Top selling brands that taste good…and are known to be highly rated among Tequila enthusiasts.” So, the more you know. Right?

Raiding the Minibar

Separate from the tequila to drink and/or serve, I have become obsessed with collecting mini/half bottles of the Tequila brands I love.

Though not all brands I love make a mini-or half bottle (Pasote? Gran Dovejo?) I have found the following:

  1. La Gritona (Repo)
  2. ArteNom (1123, 1414, 1579 and 1146)
  3. 123 Organic (1-2-3)
  4. Tears of Llorona
  5. Ocho (Repo) 500ml
  6. Fortaleza (Blanco & Anejo)
  7. El Tequileno (Platinum and Gran Reposadl)
  8. El Tesoro (Blanco)
  9. Arette Unique (Repo)

I sought out the Fortaleza Anejo but a rep from the company told me they didn’t make a 375ml. Ocho Blanco and Arette Unique Blanco have not been findable but through this r/tequila I was hipped to the Tepozan collection which I will add soon. I have not pursued non additive-free tequilas, Patron, Don Julio, Herradura, of which there are many mini (375m) and nip sizes.

I’m only sorry I didn’t start sooner with the additive-free bottle collecting because I am certain the costs of these small bottles would have been much more manageable a few years ago (though perhaps the demand would not have been there).

Is Cascahuin 11Brix (or substitute name of bottle you can’t afford here) worth it?

When the question is “Is this bottle worth it?” The best answer is almost always: if you are simply looking to blow your mind with great tasting, additive-free tequila, you can do for a much lower cost. Folks on the tequila boards and in the additive-free communities will most frequently cite Tapatio, Arette, G4 (maybe not anymore), Terralta, El Tesoro, Primo, ArteNom, Organic 1-2-3, etc. And I agree.

But sometimes the questioner is adding subtext, or second question, like “What about this opportunity to own, gift, perhaps resell, and even enjoy this rare bottle.” That’s more complicated because if the asker doesn’t know what they like, then knowing whether the extra $$ over MSRP is worth it is not truly knowable. I am a fan of Don Fulano, and so paying MSRP for the 20th Anniversary was a no brainer, because I knew I would like it and I did! (And perhaps my favorite bottle right now). Same with the Siembra Valles and Siembra Azul limited editions. I have loved nearly everything they made, so I was not afraid to pay some (again, MSRP) to get it.

Cascahuin’s limited expressions, especially the 11 Brix , are always hard to come by. I did score a bottle and I tried it with David, my Tequila-in-Arms-Brother and we decided that it was so outrageously good that we should each get a bottle if we could. This turned out to be harder than we thought, even at outrageous leaps over MSRP and even with trusted folks in the business. A pint of blood each later, we each secured one, but then we knew it would be quite a while before we could spend again and that we had better enjoy this bottle with all of our ability.

Again, 300 smackers is a lot. Magnificent in nearly every way- aroma, taste, mouth feel. But 11Brix is a lot. It prompts the question “If you could go back in time to 2021 and see a shelf lined with Tequila Ochos Puntas and F.t.l.z.a. WB 21, would you have loaded up your cart?” My answer is likely “Yes,” but not just because of their possible future value but because they represent a high-water mark in tequila production that may not be equalled. Some think the same for expressions that have stopped being made, like Pasoste at NOM 1579 or the Cabeza Tequila line. Generally but not always, these sought-after bottles are very, very good.

If you know about Cascahuin, 1123, and know your tequila taste, and you can afford it, I say you get it, because it is unlikely you will find it cheaper in a year, at which time in your tequila journey its value may have increased.

Why Buy a $6K Bottle of Anything?

If you saw the Apple TV+ show “We Crashed” about the founder of WeWork, they did a good job of making one object and representative of being rich a tall bottle of Don Julio 1492, held by the neck, swung carelessly and swigged from emphatically. The founders’ staff are staying at the founders’ apartment and after some convincing, taste Don Julio like it’s the apple from the tree of knowledge, and later are all seen to be seeking out and carrying such bottles as they proliferate throughout the party culture.

In my opinion, these ‘well-known brands’ understand that if they can follow where Clase Azul has led (progressively more expensive bottles which then take over all shelves in liquor stores and online liquor sites everywhere) they can make a lot of money. I am no expert on the business of tequila, but logic suggests that if great brands (Ocho, Pasote) can make a great XA to sell for about $200, then they are likely making a profit on it. So if El Tesoro and G4 can sell a bottle for $500 they must be making even more profit (minus the new bottle cost). Diablito is even in the same type of bottle and is outrageously priced, even for high-end bottles.

But I think if people who have $3-6K to spend on a bottle of booze they want the bottle to look good in a lighted case and show off. So they are buying the expensive bottle because it is ornate; because is it is rare; because it looks good on their bar, their ‘high-end’ shelf or lighted case. They assume it is a sign of strength (and possibly good taste) and for a long time, people with money could have rightly assumed that a higher price tag meant a better product.

I know from being a tequila fan, drinker and reader of community discussions that that can be true (because the El Tesoro 85th is outrageously expensive but a truly fantastic tequila that I will enjoy until I am holding the bottle above my mouth to get the last drops) but it is definitely most often not true at all. Most experienced tequila drinkers can tell you that the Tapatio line is better than nearly all of the high-end bottles I have tried (Clase Azul, Don Julio, Patron) for a small fraction of the price. As long as that’s true, I am staying in that part of the tequila shelf.*

*Although the Siembra Azul and Valles special bottles will make me spend irresponsibly.

Tequila Hunting – Is this your experience, too?

Since discovering r/tequila and Tequila Matchmaker it has been my mission to find some of the best juices recommended here (and there). This has been great for my tequila palette, not great for my wallet, but fun all the time. Always trying to balance score of 90s from the community and experts, no additives, available near me or online in some way (and not part of some kind of price war). No doubt I have put a lot of miles on the car and spent hours on wine-searcher trying to find some of these elusive expressions, but it is has been so satisfying.

This past week, I traveled South to the NYC area and I was determined to find a few bottles that New England simply didn’t offer— or offer at a reasonable price. These included El Tequileno Reposado Rare, Tequila Ocho Puntas and the Cascahuin Cerro Del Luz Blanco. Bonus if I found a reasonably priced bottle of Winter Blend or either of the overproof Terralta Expressions (Blanco & XA).

Like most folks here, I researched and prepared. In fact, my trip’s trajectory owed much to the map of fine stores in the region as much as people I was going to visit. (Thanks to wine-searcher).

In the end I got two out three and no Terralta (overproof; did score both regular expressions of blanco and XA), but I wanted to share some of the frustrations about Tequila Hunting, and see if other folks here also have had these experiences, or am I doing something wrong? I will not bad mouth any liquor stores —because we all have to make a living— but I will share where I had great experiences. These are some of the frustrations I had.

“WE DON’T SHIP” I realize that liquor stores sell most of their wares to the local population, and that shipping to other states (and sometimes, even neighboring states) can pose challenges involving licensing, permitting, tax and mail protocols that are beyond even the most patient liquor owner’s interest, ability and budget for time in figuring it out.

450 miles worth but oh so worth it. Not pictured: Terralta Blanco, Cascahuin Plata 48 (again) and El Mayor Extra Anejo (don’t ask).

But recently I had an a company called Viscount Liquors in Wappingers Falls who told me “We don’t ship but I can have FedEx pick it up.” Whatever the difference was, that made my life much easier. I don’t see why places that don’t ship can’t do the same— charge me for the service! Of course there a limits: a shop here in Concord, MA wanted to charge me $250 for local delivery of Siembra Valles High Proof Blanco ($50). They didn’t seem to understand the conflict or irony in charging 5x the cost of the bottle; let alone the fact that for money I could have hired a limo to pick me up for the day while I consumed it. I got it elsewhere.

“THAT’S NOT WHAT I ORDERED. Wine-searcher (a great site and app that is getting better all the time) led me to a store in NJ that claimed to have the Cascahuin, so I ordered two bottles, one for a close friend who I was going to visit and had agreed to pick it up. She was nice enough to carefully package it for me and because I didn’t want to traverse several states with open bottles of liquor I left it packaged until I got home—only to discover they had sold me the Cascahuin 48 Plata. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s a great juice, but I already had it, and I didn’t need to travel 50 extra miles to get it. The galling thing is that when I called the store to tell them what had happened, they defended the sale, and said the reason that happened was that the Plata 48 says “Cerra De Luz” on the label. I suppose it’s OK since they actually have changed the listing so other folks will not make the same mistake I did. Grrr!

Cascahuin Lael
It DOES say Cerro de Luz.

Not the actual “Cerro de Luz” Blanco I was looking for, but I did get two extra bottles of the Plata 48, a great juice.

“WE DON’T HAVE THAT” Wine-searcher reported that a shop not too far out of my way had De-Nada in both reposado and blanco expressions. When I visited their site online, I was able to find the bottles, and put them in my cart. I didn’t buy them, because I wasn’t sure if I wanted one or both. I figured I’d make a game-time decision based on what might also be in the store that was interesting. When I got there I couldn’t find it and so I asked the folks. They just looked at me blankly and said “We don’t have that,” as if that was a conversation finisher. I told them that Wine-searcher SAID they had it, but more importantly, their own website said they had it. I showed them the bottle in the cart, with the SKU#. This changed their expression and they immediately got to investigating where this tequila might be. Now this just a local shop, no Total Wine. I don’t think everyone has to know everything but you would think if a customer comes in looking to buy something the least you could do it is look it up? After about 10 minutes they offered to order it, which I agreed to. (They also offered me a discount on Adictivo if I wanted; I didn’t). However, they didn’t get it in before I had to leave and I found it somewhere else. (They called me after I got home).

In conclusion, tequila hunting is a labor of love, and I try hard not to bring attitude to the hard working men and women of our nation’s liquor stores. It’s all worth it because The Tequila Ochos Puntas, the Tequileño Rare and the Terralta Blanco are mind-blowingly good, simple strong agave flavors that are great sippers and I’m sad I only have one bottle of each.

If you got through this, please let me know if you have any good tequila hunting tips!

Carried Away by Tres Tequilas

I do buy a lot of tequila. Since I got to the point where I was buying bottles, I would usually buy one, open it, try it, and put it on the shelf. If I liked it, I would eventually finish it, and then I would know to get another one. Bottles of Arette, Tears of Llorona, ArteNom were frequent pickups. When I could, I would find the other expressions and buy them too. Buying bottles was done mostly done impulsively; whenver I found myself at a liquor store, or saw something good. My collection grew steadily and then I found Tequila Matchmaker. With their guidance, Reddit and Facebook Groups, my collection went from a few bottles that I drank from all the time to a collection a bottles that I could never finish in my lifetime. Still, I would hear about incredible bottles of additive-free tequila and I would go out and get them. Very often, I was content to have them and put them on the shelf with the others, but in rare occasions, a bottle was so crazily good, I would feel compelled to get another one just from tasting it. (Villa Lobos Distiller’s Strength comes to mind). Other times, a tequila brand that I love would announce a new expression and I would want to make sure I got at least one bottle.

The magical power of three compels you to drink tequila.

This cycle that now exists, of announcements, followed by releases hampered by allocation rules, hoarders, and flippers makes it so hard to just be a tequila fan. It instills a FOMO in the hearts of fans who fear that may never get a bottle of something. So many posts of the forlorn Fortaleza-hunters. “I have never seen it, will I ever?” I am glad to have purchased my bottles when there was no limit and almost no fan base.

Then, I got an email from Suerte announcing they would sell their new expression directly from their website. (I want to support my local shops, but if they won’t make it available I will support the brand).

I happen to be a big fan of Suerte, and I love their Extra Anejo. I immediately ordered three bottles, figuring I needed one to drink, one to store and another one to drink if it was really good. That was July. It also came to pass that my nephew was getting married and I wanted to gift him some tequila, and I had just tried the Los Dos, which I thought was an excellent, additive-free tequila at an insanely low cost. They allowed direct sales, so I ordered three bottles to bring to the wedding’s after party. For reasons too uninteresting to go into, none of these deliveries got to me until last weekend, when coincidentally I was lucky to score a bottle of Volans Still Strength Blanco. When I got the call, I immediately went to get the bottle at my local who saved it for me, and then I got the call about another local shop who had it and so went there too. Then I had three bottles of that. And Three bottles of Suerte. And three bottles of Los Dos, that arrived nearly a month after the wedding. (I brought Ocho to the wedding).

With the exception of Tequila Ocho Puntas, I have never had more than two bottles of any tequila where both of them were not open. And now I have this. Who knows how long it will take to finish them? I hope it happens before the next Puntas release.